The Challenge

The Anacostia River has suffered a long, complicated history of environmental abuse that has left its waters filled with trash, sediment and contamination. While many improvements have been made to reduce trash in the river and while large infrastructure projects to address water quality are underway, the parkland surrounding the river has not reached its potential as a natural, recreational and cultural destination. Meanwhile the neighborhoods living east of the river have historically had the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the District of Columbia. As new high-end neighborhoods are being developed on the western shore of the Anacostia, concerns about existing communities’ priorities and displacement due to gentrification near the river have been raised.

Many government agencies and community groups are working to address one or many of these issues. Several plans express visions for the riverfront including the District’s Office of Planning 2003 Anacostia Waterfront Initiative Framework Plan, the 2003 Anacostia River Parks Target Area & Riverwalk Design Guidelines and the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. The National Park Service, who owns and manages over 1,000 acres of parkland along the Anacostia River, released its Foundation Document and Management Plan for Anacostia Park in 2017. Events DC has released plans to redevelop the RFK stadium area, Building Bridges Across the River’s is currently raising funds to constructthe 11th Street Bridge Park and the District government is guiding processes to redesign Poplar Point and Kingman Island. In addition to these land management plans, community organizations like Groundwork Anacostia River, the Anacostia Watershed Society, [insert orgs] and many other organizations are working to advocate for a healthy river, bring people to its shores through programming or use activities in the park as opportunities for education and job training for nearby residents.

Yet after decades of citizen advocacy and effort, the Anacostia remains one of the nation’s most polluted rivers. Trash from storm drains still chokes its waters, as does raw sewage after heavy rain events. Invisible pollutants—sediment and nutrients from urban runoff and toxins from the river’s industrial past—have yet to be remediated. While cleanup efforts are underway, but progress has been painfully slow in part due to the complex challenge of cleaning up contamination and dwindling public resources or capacity to address the issues. And while several nonprofits are working on improving aspects of the river corridor, no forum exists to coordinate efforts or jointly identify opportunities and gaps.

The many disparate efforts to improve the Anacostia River lack coordination and a unified vision. Without a comprehensive framework that incorporates the many plans, programs and efforts currently related to improving the water, parks and communities of the Anacostia corridor, the riverfront may never become the vibrant, resilient, world-class 21st century waterfront the District deserves.